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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Do you have The Happiest Baby on the Block?

Do you have The Happiest Baby on the Block?
by Cortney Gibson

Many new parents have an unrealistic expectation of what their newborn will look like and how she will behave. They might expect a smiling, cooing, interactive infant. To the surprise of many parents, their long awaited bundle of joy is actually a wrinkly, red-faced being that does little more than eat, sleep and fill diapers! In addition to their newborn’s appearance, many parents are shocked to discover just how much their new baby can cry. As a matter of fact, half of all new babies cry more than two hours a day. Even more alarming, 15-20% of babies under three months old cry more than three hours a day!
The prolonged crying of a newborn often causes exhaustion, breastfeeding failure, marital stress, maternal depression and even child abuse. Sleep deprived new parents and overwhelmed nannies are finding themselves without the coping skills to deal with the inconsolable crying of a new baby.

Why are these babies crying so much and why are they inconsolable? World renowned pediatrician and UCLA professor, Dr. Harvey Karp has discovered the answer to these questions and the solution to the problem. In his book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, Dr. Karp explains why babies are so fussy and reveals the secret to calming crying babies. The 4 principles are The Missing 4th Trimester, The Calming Reflex, the 5 S’s and the Cuddle Cure

The Missing 4th Trimester is the idea that human babies are very immature at birth. In the first three months of life our babies look and behave more like fetuses than the offspring of most animals. For instance, a newborn foal is able to walk shortly after birth. Most animals rely on mobility and the ability to find food as a condition of survival. Humans, on the other hand, rely on a big brain for survival. If our babies could remain in the womb for an additional three months, they would be born with the ability to smile, coo and possibly suck their fingers. The problem with a twelve month gestation is that it’s already a tight squeeze at nine months. Our babies would get stuck in the birth canal if they were allowed to mature for another three months. Thus the early “eviction” at nine months!

Dr. Karp has also discovered the true nature of colic. For centuries people have been speculating about the reason so many babies have colic and what can be done to treat it. The truth is it’s not maternal anxiety, gas pain or a poor temperament. Colic is simply the result of a newborn’s need for the sensations of the womb in the first three months of life. The Missing 4th Trimester is the only theory that truly explains the existence of colic. Colic symptoms usually appear around two weeks of age, peak around six weeks and subside around three to four months of age. In premature babies, these milestones will likely occur at their adjusted age. In the case of a preemie, colic will present around two weeks after the baby’s due date and will end around three to four months after the due date.

The Calming Reflex is virtually an off switch for crying. All babies are born with this reflex and all babies can be soothed if the reflex is activated correctly. Babies are born with many reflexes; the Moro or “startle” reflex, rooting, sucking and grasping just to name a few. These reflexes are built-in and require no thinking or planning on the part of the baby. Much like a knee reflex, when the calming reflex is initiated the response is automatic. Anyone can turn on the calming reflex in a baby, provided the proper techniques are used.

The 5 S’s are the key to turning on the calming reflex and calming even the fussiest baby. These five steps essentially recreate the womb experience for the baby. All the comforts of home are reproduced in these five simple steps:

Swaddling – Tightly wrapping with arms down, the cornerstone of calming.
Side/Stomach Position – Holding Baby in this position will put her at ease, a baby’s “feel-good” position
Shhh – Matching her volume, the Shhh will remind Baby of the noisy whoosh of the womb, a baby’s favorite sound of love and safety.
Swinging – Gently jiggling, moving in rhythm with a baby’s needs.
Sucking – A pacifier or clean pinky offers the “icing on the cake” of soothing.

Swaddling by itself will not usually calm a crying newborn. In fact, some babies will initially cry harder at the prospect of being wrapped. The wrapping must be very snug and the baby’s arms should be down at his sides. Once the baby is swaddled nice and snug he will calm faster and sleep longer than if he were unwrapped. This restricted movement is reminiscent of the womb, where he was tightly packaged for many months.

For many parents, the side/stomach position is counter-intuitive. Most people hold the baby on her back in the cradle position. For a crying baby, this position only increases her uncontrollable wailing. For the calming reflex to be initiated, the swaddled baby must be moved into a position somewhere between on her side and stomach. Each baby has her own preferred position and you may have to turn the baby a fraction of an inch in one direction or the other to turn on the calming reflex. Please note that the safest and only way a baby should be put down to sleep is on her back. The side/stomach position is only for soothing, not for sleeping.

When swaddled and in the side/stomach position, a crying baby will usually soothe in an instant. If his cries persist, it’s time to add a loud “shhh” to the mix. The caregiver should have her mouth right next to the baby’s ear and begin with a loud “shhh” blowing parallel, not into, the baby’s ear. Newborns are used to the 85 decibel sounds of the womb, which is comparable to that of a vacuum cleaner! Although it may seem harsh to us, babies feel very calm and safe when they hear this sound. Use a white noise machine near the crib to prolong naps and night time sleep.

Every baby has her own special combination of S’s that work for her. Many babies particularly like the 4th S – swinging. Swinging, swaying and jiggling are all ways to recreate the movement sensations that a baby feels in the womb. Imagine the constant movement that goes on in there! A baby’s motion detector is in her head, so activities that allow her supported head to jiggle slightly will turn on the calming reflex. The idea is to do small, quick movements (more like a shiver) to produce a little jiggle. Please note that the baby’s head and neck must always be supported and you should NEVER shake a baby.

Most babies need to suck in addition to feedings. This is a behavior that babies instinctually start doing in the womb and will continue to use as a comforting measure. Extremely fussy babies may need all the S’s, including sucking on a pacifier, to calm down. As with all sleep props, it is recommended that babies not be allowed to fall asleep with the pacifier in their mouths, but used only to calm the baby or pacify until feeding.

Experimenting with different combinations of S’s and paying attention to what works will eliminate most crying and relieve frustrated parents and nannies. These techniques work, but only if you perform each element correctly. Many parents are doing each step, but lack the vigor necessary to activate the calming reflex. To learn the correct way to implement these techniques as well as an in depth look at why they work, consider taking a class from a Certified Happiest Baby Educator.

For more information about The Happiest Baby on the Block or finding a Happiest Baby class, please contact Gibson Newborn Services at (866) 432-BABY or by visiting

Cortney Gibson is a Newborn Care Specialist and Parent Educator. She owns and operates Gibson Newborn Services, a company dedicated to helping parents of new babies succeed through education, newborn care and support.
Cortney has spent the past 13 years directly working with families. After eight years as a professional nanny, she began exclusively working with newborns in 2004. She specializes in the care of preemies and multiples, as well as sleep training and new parent education.


Anonymous September 3, 2009 at 12:05 PM  

Great article and enjoyed visiting your website too.
Gael Ann

Crying Baby Helper September 7, 2009 at 5:38 AM  

Very good book and covers everything you need to know, and a big help on crying babies.

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